The many labels of me

NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful. “You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza. “Said what twice?” I asked. “That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth. He watched me with the resolute bearing of someone convinced I couldn’t possibly come back with a logical response, waiting, I imagined, for me to wipe Sriracha Mayo from my lips and acknowledge that he was right. “But I do have two lives. My husband has one, I have two. He has his work, his children and me, sort of like a TV show in which I’m a special guest. When I’m in New York, if you’re lucky, you might catch me on my own show, in which my friends accuse me of appearing so infrequently they’re surprised it hasn’t been cancelled. I live and work here and carry my costumes and props back and forth between my reality and his reality, where it’s sort of like hanging out in a green room waiting to film my cameo,” I said confidently, but more than a little miffed that the unconvinced look on his face meant I would have to further explain my meaning. Fortifying myself, I dove into another fish taco. Taking advantage of my silence Hartley insisted, “But you don’t. It’s… Continue reading The many labels of me

A Woman’s Worth

A Woman’s Worth was published online in the August 2013 issue of SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge. Workin’ Woman Blues Lyrics by Valerie June I ain’t fit to be no mother I ain’t fit to be no wife yet I been workin’ like a man, y’all I been workin’ all my life yeah There ain’t no dinner on the table Ain’t no food in the ‘fridgerator I’ll go to work and I’ll be back later I go to work said I’d be back later Lord you know I’m a good looking woman Lord you know I’m a good looking girl If you want to give me something Anything in this great big world yeah Lord you know that I am ready for my sugar my sugar daddy. …chants Valerie June in Workin’ Woman Blues, from Pushin’ Against a Stone, a collection of songs and ballads I can only describe as Blues Gospel Folk Soul Incantation Poetry. Music is visceral, entering the spirit as do the sounds, sights and scents of a long walk on the beach—sea foam meeting ocean spray, kelp bulb greeting beach grass, driftwood adorning sand dune, bare toes testing tide pull, salt wind softening gull caw, seal bark parting morning fog—the whole intoxicating whiff of it infused into my body and soul come stroll’s end. When the voice and lyrics of a song kiss my imagination in that way that raises goosebumps, I stop, and listen.. …to June’s Tennessee-stropped voice calling out the most primary of female choices—to work, or to be a wife and mother—evoking in me the night howl of a She-Wolf, until the crepuscule cedes to morning light and washes the air of its haunting sound, and the creature, hiding from the sun on the fringes of civilization, waits for another’s day’s dusk… Continue reading A Woman’s Worth

A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution

I wrote A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution in stupefied disbelief that Sheryl Sandberg, the successful and highly educated woman at the COO helm of the legendary FaceBook, would write Lean In, a modern feminist call-to-arms, in which she essentially claims that women, individually and collectively, are not occupying their rightful place at the top of the business world next to men because they do not know how to use their negotiating skills to their professional advantage. This assertion flies in the face of what I have personally witnessed in business over the course of the last 35 years of my life, during which time I have seen scores of brilliant, visionary and highly assertive women be turned down repeatedly for seats at the top for reasons that have nothing to do with their lack of skill or their unwillingness to be assertive, and everything to do with the massive support structure that men provide one another…a support structure that is unavailable to women because there simply are not enough of them in top management to provide a supportive structure for other women coming up the ladder. When I was growing up I watched with a mixture of envy, awe and anger the tightly knit and organized infrastructure that encouraged my older brother’s life. Much of the considerable mentoring and tutelage about survival skills that he received came from the numerous sports he enjoyed – baseball, football, rugby, basketball and scuba diving. Boys learn, at a very early age, to work together, to compete with one another, to fight with one another, and to help one another even if they don’t like one another, and, when all is said and done, to end their days joking in the locker room or having a beer at the corner bar… Continue reading A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution

Beauté et La Jeunesse, Amour et La Mort…

When I was 15 Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust had such an impact on me I imagined that were I to venture a trip to Los Angeles, Tod Hackett, Faye Greener and their entire entourage of misfit friends would greet me at the train station. My childhood in Northern New Mexico was one from which I was desperate to escape, where Cowboys and Indians were real, not the stuff of Hollywood movies we would watch at a drive-in theatre with the help of a speaker attached to a rolled down car window. While I knew that the American Southwest fostered a kind of mythic appeal for the endless stream of Easterners arriving to set down roots under its majestic skies, I had grown up under that star-strewn ether and longed for something else, something far less real than the rodeos I attended on weekends, and West’s words had convinced me I would find that reality in the City of Angels. I would not actually see Los Angeles until several years later during college when, craving adventure one night, I drove non stop from Santa Fe with a friend to hunt down a famous hamburger joint and decide for myself whether its reputation was warranted. It was, or so it seemed to me at a time in my life when driving nearly 900 miles in a rickety car to savor a burger could lead to only one possible conclusion – that it was without question the best hamburger I had ever had. True to West’s promise, the panorama of Southern California opposed my familiar New Mexico landscape in every respect. Emerging from the Yucca Valley at sunrise to a vast entanglement of freeways and subdivisions of lazy bungalows punctuated with exotic palm trees was like a shot of tequila on an… Continue reading Beauté et La Jeunesse, Amour et La Mort…

A Writer’s Introduction to Google+

While certain life experiences are more or less universal – falling in or out of love, winning or losing a job, saying goodbye to one’s parents at the end of their lives – there are times when our individual realities are so idiosyncratic it’s hard for anyone else to relate, times when things can look calm and ordered on the outside, but underneath roils a breeding ground of anxiety. The sort of uncertainty that washes over one in a business meeting for instance, when a casual downward glance might reveal that one’s jacket is missbuttoned, which inspires a swift hand clutch to the bosom, which in turn reveals a cuff button visibly hanging by a thread. And although everyone knows that buttons on even well-made suits are virtually spit stuck in place, this knowledge provides no consolation whatsoever to the afflicted in this case, nor does it offer the slightest barrier against the oblique stares of judgmental colleagues, each of whom begins to free associate various reasons for their missbuttoned colleague’s public dishelvelment. Panic kicks in, which leads to an instant replay of the morning’s toilette. Do my shoes match? Did I forget to put my skirt on? Do I have eyeliner on only one eye? Do I have last month’s steamed spinach between my two front teeth? Since it is hard in such a situation to be sure that all is in fact in order, save for the unfortunate lapel misalignment and errant button, a sudden flourish of nervous perspiration at the nape of the neck makes it impossible to concentrate on the business at hand. An official silent reconnaisance begins. Skirt on? Check. Price tag removed? Check. Nail polish on all fingers and thumbs? Check. Two earrings? Check. Still, failing an appropriate opportunity to visit the nearest lady’s room,… Continue reading A Writer’s Introduction to Google+

Climbing the Steps: Conversations with My Stepson About Life, Love and Loss

My conscious awareness of the meaning of the word “stepparent” didn’t begin until I married a man with three adult children.  For someone is not a stepparent unless they are legally married to a person who has offspring from a prior relationship.  I really should have known this, or at least given it some serious thought, because my mother was the stepmother to my father’s daughter from his previous marriage, a girl who therefore legally also became my half-sister because we had the same father. But that was all a very long time ago, when I was quite young and didn’t put any thought into the meaning of words and the preconceived notions about certain relationships that are burdened by the attachment of  ‘step’ in front of ‘daughter,’ ‘son,’ ‘mother’ ‘father,’ or ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ for that matter.  And it does matter.  Quite a lot, in fact. If you are a member of a stepfamily, most likely no one ever sat you down at the onset and explained the emotional and psychological complexity of the relationships you were about to encounter.  Most likely no one ever told you that there would be considerable competition for attention, which is normal and to be expected.  Mostly likely no one ever told you that you would often feel like you were on the outside of the biological family looking in, and that the members of the biological family would more than likely feel the same way about the newly formed blended family, as it is often called.  And most likely no one ever told you that it is no easier to be a stepparent than it is to be a parent, that it is no easier to be a stepdaughter than to be a daughter.  And that it is almost more difficult to… Continue reading Climbing the Steps: Conversations with My Stepson About Life, Love and Loss

Our Mothers, Sex…and Freedom

For reasons I have never quite understood, children tend to flinch, blanch and wince at any suggestion that their parents might have had sex for the pure pleasure of it, rather than solely for the purpose of having children.  It has never made sense to me that a child might prefer to think they were conceived by an emotionally disconnected physical act, rather than one drenched in pleasure and absorbed in carnal indulgence and abandon.  It seems to be almost universally against the nature of children to think of their parents as having had a sexual appetite, let alone a possibly ravenous one.  Taking pleasure is often perceived as selfish, and parents are supposed to be decidedly self-less. Indeed if children were to spend any time thinking about their parents having been so physically and emotionally enraptured and enwrapped, other questions might arise from which to further flinch, blanch and wince.  Such as how often their parents had sex.  And what kind of sex they had.  And where they had it.  And under what circumstances.  Which might actually lead to a conversation with their parents about, well, you know…sex.  Children don’t want to go there.  Nor, really, do their parents.  Parent/child conversations about sex usually revolve around the egg/sperm get together, and preventing pregnancy and being responsible and careful and cautious.  With all the worry involved, how can one openly and curiously venture into the dangerous territory of physical pleasure? All of which musings would naturally lead to these dreaded, inevitable, inexorable, and ultimate queries:  Within all of our parents’ wanton and woozy pleasure, did they actually mean to have us or was our conception merely a byproduct of sex rather than as the sole intended purpose of it?  Are we meant to be here, or were we merely accidents?… Continue reading Our Mothers, Sex…and Freedom